Painted Dhal Shield
Place of Origin: India
Date: 18th Century
An 18th century Indian shield known as a Dhal, from Rajasthan, probably Ajmer. A similar shield is shown in a brightly coloured lithograph from the Journal of Indian Art and Industry. It is labelled ‘Shield made by Khuda Bux, of Shahpura, Ajmere’. Ajmer was a princely state in India, and is now a city in the state of Rajasthan. Ajmer is surrounded by the Aravalli mountain range, and these mountains could be the source of the landscapes we see on shields from this group.
This example is convex and probably made of buffalo hide, it has a base layer of black paint which is used to great effect with the creation of a hilly landscape on four sides of the front surface. With the use of various shades of red on the black background, the artist creates an organic and subtle bed to the elaborate floral arrangements. The flower beds are bordered by sandy coloured rocks which the artist has shaded in a way to create a three-dimensional visual effect. The three-dimensional effect continues with the complex sprays of flowers, although the same shading techniques have not been used, the flowers, blossoms, fruits and larger leaves have multiple paint layers to give a physical prominence from the surface of the shield and those leaves that are painted in the background. The use of gold in the paints is apparent, and gives the shield an opulent appearance.
The rear of the shield is also decorated in a similar way, the lower ground closest to the border having red hills, and the upper ground with shaded rocks. The grain of the leather is more apparent on the rear, and provides a clever sense of texture to the scenic painting. A later red velvet pad and cord handles.
The gilt-copper bosses have a style of repoussé found on objects from Kutch in the 19th century. Each is set with four large pieces of polished green agate. The bosses may have been added at a later date, in India bosses were treated almost as an accessory, we can see from Elgood’s recent catalogue of the Jaipur collection (2015), that five of the six hide shields catalogued are without bosses (cat.no’s. 114, 115, 116, 119, and 120).
The use of decorative stone in shield bosses however, is not unique to this example, the Met publish an Indian shield from the Bashford Dean memorial collection, which has copper-gilt bosses mounted with green glass, see Alexander (2015), fig.10, p.10.